The following is an open letter to all legislators in Salem, Oregon and Washingtion, D.C. It is composed of ideas discussed by a self-advocacy group that I run in Eugene.
Dear Congressman / Senator:
As you may or may not be aware, the combined unemployment and underemployment rate for young adults with autism is estimated about 90%. We feel that this is far too high. Many autistic adults are willing and able to work and support themselves. We feel that they should be given the opportunity to do so.
Vocational Rehabilitation does exist to help disabled people, including autistic people, find employment. However, many people who use this system are required to work for free in an assessment position, often for years. We feel that a job assessment, if it does not come with full pay, should be capped at no more than one month. After that amount of time, a caseworker should be able to ascertain what an individual is capable of.
Once work is found, many employers look for ways to pay disabled workers as little as possible, taking advantage of the fact that it is legal to pay disabled workers less than minimum wage. We feel that this is wrong, and that everyone deserves the dignity of a living wage.
However, we also understand that some workers are so severely disabled that they do not produce minimum wage level work. In these cases, we feel that it would be appropriate for the employer to pay the worker what the worker is worth, and for the state to pay the rest, at least up to minimum wage.
Often, the work that is sought by employment agencies is very low level, such as filling envelopes or pushing brooms, and often part-time. These types of jobs lack dignity.
Currently, Walgreens is demonstrating that autistic workers are capable of the same unskilled jobs that are sought for non-autistic workers. Microsoft and Freddie Mac are demonstrating that autistic workers are capable of professional positions. We ask that all employment agencies working for disabled people consider these possibilities.
We feel that in the long run, finding meaningful employment for autistic adults will result in fewer tax dollars being spent, as they will be able to earn their own living, and no longer be collecting financial supports.
In addition, we believe there are broader economic benefits to having more autistic adults working. First, it is possible to make more money from even an unskilled job than from government benefits. That results in more money being spent in the economy. Second, when an autistic adult is working, he/she is providing work to an employer in exchange for his/her paycheck, which produces more wealth in the economy.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please consider taking action on these issues.
Director of A.V.O.I.C.E.
Autistics Voicing Our Interests in Change and Equality